Early costume designers, such as West and Adrian, recognized design as a great force in twentieth-century haute couture. Their work, crucial in the establishment of American style as a world competitor, was the first to outstrip the French, who dominated fashion commercially and artistically. By the 1910s, stars were photographed in cinema clothes for fashion magazines and Sears-Roebuck catalogues, and the word "film" was used as an advertising lure. But the public's desire for these clothes is ironic, as many are impossible to wear. Jean Harlow's form-fitting satin gowns were glued to her body and steamed off. Mae West was sewn into two identical garments for a scene, one for sitting, one for standing, because each was so tight she could not do both in either of them. Glenn Close also was unable to sit in Anthony Powell's sexy costumes for her in 101 Dalmations (1996). The pink gown Marilyn Monroe wore to sing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) was made from upholstery satin and lined with felt. Given this, it is astounding how many fashion firsts emerged from the bizarre necessities of a film set: padded shoulders (Adrian in the 1930s for Joan Crawford), the cling dress (Rambova for Salome ), the strapless bodice (Jean Louis in 1946 for Gilda , anticipating Christian Dior's New Look of 1947), the pillbox hat (John Frederics and Adrian for Greta Garbo in 1932) and many others.
The provenance of style setting was debated between Europe and America but, by the mid 1930s, the couturieré Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) acceded, "What Hollywood designs today, you will be wearing tomorrow" (Mulvagh, p. 123). Though some of these firsts appeared simultaneously (Schiaparelli and Adrian both introduced padded shoulders), a film spreads a "look" faster than any other medium and credit usually sits with the costume designer. In 1918, the simple black velvet suit, white blouse, ribbon tie, and beret designed by the director Louis Gasnier and worn by Pearl White in The Mysteries of New York (1914, aka The Exploits of Elaine ) became de rigueur among working women. In 1932, Adrian's ruffled gown for Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton was the first to be mass marketed and Head's evening dress with flowered bustiere for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) became a 1950s prototype. Even fabrics, such as Adrian's gingham dress for Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Head's tropically patterned sarongs for Dorothy Lamour in Jungle Princess (1936), have started trends. Styles have been effected by war and censorship. The censorial 1930 Hays Code forced designers into ingenious uses of glamour to substitute for sheer sex and the 1930s' glamour ended with World War II's cutbacks on costume budgets.
The mid-1960s, with the lifting of censorship laws, saw design return to extremes. Some costumes, such as Piero Gherardi's for Juliet of the Spirits (1965, Academy Award ® nomination), Milena Canonero's for AClockwork Orange (1971) and Danilo Donati's (1926–2001) for Il Casanova di Federico Fellini ( Fellini's Casanova , 1977), were exercises in artfully wild imagination. Many generated important fashions. Theadora Van Runckle's (b. 1929) clothes for Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Academy Award ® nomination) initiated 1930s gangster glamour (including a braless look). Ann Roth's (b. 1931) designs for Jane Fonda in Klute (1971) brought maxi-coats with mini-skirts into vogue. Phyllis Dalton's Dr. Zhivago
Despite their enormously different goals, a relationship between costume design and couture has always existed. Modern audiences are accustomed to seeing stars on screen dressed by Giorgio Armani (b. 1934) or John Galliano (b. 1961) just as earlier audiences were accustomed to screen designs by Elsa Schiaparelli or Christian Dior (1905–1957). These couture outfits were made not for characterization but rather for show and served retail purposes, as exemplified by Armani's designs for Richard Gere in American Gigolo (1980), which made him a household name. But some couturiers have produced suitable costumes for narratives such as Hubert de Givenchy's (b. 1927) creation of virtually all of Audrey Hepburn's contemporary film outfits, Lilly Daché's (1898–1989) Carmen Miranda fruit turbans, and John Frederics' hats for Dietrich in her von Sternberg pictures, or his period hats for Gone with the Wind (1939).
Though many costume designers started in vaudeville and revues—such as Adrian, Bernard Newman, Charles LeMaire, and Max Ree, who worked for George White's Scandals , Greenwich Village Follies , Ziegfeld Follies , and Irving Berlin's Music Box Revue or Irene Sharaff, who built her career on Broadway—some began in couture houses. Hattie Carnegie's fostered designers Banton, Greer, Jean Louis, and Howard Shoup (1903–1987). During Hollywood's Studio era, fashion and film were linked popularly. Costume designers had large followings and many, such as Adrian, Irene, Greer, Shoup, and Banton, ran their own labels, typically designing personal clothes for stars and clients while working on as many as ten films a year. By the 1950s, with the exception of Head, who remained publicly known, this fame disappeared. Though costume design continues to initiate sweeping trends, the costume designer's name is rarely recognized. Iconic outfits such as Liza Minnelli's black halter-top, shorts, and gartered black stockings in Cabaret (1972) designed by Charlotte Flemming (1920–1993), Indiana Jones's fedora, leather jacket, and khaki pants for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) conceived by Deborah Nandoolman (b. 1952), and Patrizia Von Brandenstein's white, three-piece suit (off the rack) for John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (1977) are rarely connected to their originators.
But in the twenty-first century, the retailing of cinematic couture has come back. Some Japanese costume designers have their own clothing lines, as do some American designers such as Patricia Field. Bollywood (Indian film industry) designers regularly dress the public. But the ingenuity of the costume designer in film remains paramount. In the face of restrictions from lighting requirements to the actor's shape, it continues to revolutionize tailoring and set groundbreaking trends while addressing complex cinematic needs.
SEE ALSO Fashion ; Production Process
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